He hadn’t yet arrived. He was just 20 then. But there were already a few whispers of a kid. A kid who could bat. A kid who was, by people who had watched closely, regarded highly. Neither an Englishman nor an Aussie; not from India either. The kid was from New Zealand.
Yes, you heard it right: Kane Stuart Williamson, from the Bay of Plenty and the Northern Districts of New Zealand.
Five years since then, he averages close to fifty. He has centuries against all test playing nations except Zimbabwe. All over the world, except for Africa. He has won matches and drawn matches. He hasn’t let them down.
Yet, Mitchell Johnson, after Kane’s century at Gabba, said this: “I knew about him [but] I didn't realise what a good player he is”. The world has taken a longer time to notice Kane than it took a Virat Kohli or a Joe Root or a Steve Smith. But now it has noticed.
In a few years, the world will be deluged with runs off his blade, bowlers will spend sleepless nights before facing him, fielders will hate the smell of the leather as it whizzes by, and history books will repeat his name in as many pages as they have. He will be spoken of with reverence by anyone who ever picks up a cricket bat.
But there is more to Kane Williamson.
In his 1st innings at Gabba, as Williamson came down the wicket to Lyon in his 5th over and whipped the last ball over midwicket, what struck one at the moment was his equanimity. Everything he was up against looked big – the Gabba, the skies, the opponent, the runs, the Starcs and the Johnsons. Kane Williamson looked small, too small to overcome the big. Let’s roll the moment. The ball which flew over the fielder now lands easily on the outfield and strolls past the boundary. There isn’t any rush, no one’s chasing it. The umpire signals the boundary, Williamson walks to the non-strikers end. The passage looks very routine. Williamson has mastered this passage.
Same evening, in the 38th over, he dabs one past the 3rd man boundary, off Hazelwood. The foot slightly goes forward, bat comes down easily, not even threatening the air around, it is all but a forward defence until the face is opened, just slightly, to split the 3 slips and a gully. They go in unison behind it, but even the ball boys know they won’t get to it. He could repeat the shot facing the fastest bowlers in the world. He has time. Even if he lends half of it, he will still have plenty of it.
Williamson has kept his methods simple – the stance, the movement and most importantly, the approach. There isn’t a thing in his batting that would disturb the rhythm of a musician. His steps are synchronous, none defying the law of nature.
There isn’t a Virat Kohli swagger in his cover drive or a Tendulkar’s signature in his back foot drive. But there is a cover drive and a back foot punch. And then there is straight drive, a pull and a hook. Anything you name, he has it.
There is neither a tinge of fear nor doubt in his visage. There is assurance. Not many would know of it, yet. But Williamson knows. He knows he can bat, and bat for as long as he wants. Batting isn’t his duty, it’s a ritual he performs – not with strain but with pleasure.
Does he ever look under pressure? Does he ever show it? Remember Eden Park.
Once in a while, between his innings, he does smile, very gently indeed. He seems to enjoy being a batsman. He already looks like a wise man. Like a young writer who has already mastered every experience. He is just 25, remember.
Over the years, Williamson’s stature has outgrown his size. He started at No 6. Now he is arguably world’s best No 3. His runs have had a direct impact on the team. Be it the match saving 102 not out against Steyn and co. at Wellington on the 5th day, or the handful of match winning innings – 161 not out at Barbados to set up the series victory, 135 at Colombo to draw level, 192 at Sharjah to come back from behind, 242 not out to overshadow Sangakkara’s double in an extraordinary victory- his runs meant New Zealand prospered.
In coming years, Williamson will grow, from a knowledgeable kid to a professor, from an experienced youngster to a master. Batting, he has already learnt, and he has many runs left to score. The smile will remain. Kane Stuart Williamson will grow and people will know his name.